Flint Water Advisory Task Force issues final report – yet another government failure?

The Flint Advisory Task Force had three main charges to accomplish.

  • determine the cause of the crisis
  • identify remedial measures
  • safeguard Michigan residents

They failed in their primary task of identifying the cause. Safeguarding residents? A bit late for that wouldn’t you say? You can read the report here.

I only wish to highlight two key points as everything else has been covered ad nauseam. There is a tremendous push to assign blame to the emergency managers. Primarily this is coming from those who wish to repeal the emergency manager law in Michigan. That’s a debate for another day. As far as how it impacted the Flint water crisis, the answer is not at all. Detractors will point out that the emergency managers approved the switch to Flint River water. Doesn’t matter. There isn’t a reason in the world that the Flint River can’t be utilized as a safe source of drinking water. The key, of course, is proper treatment. Treatment is a subject the emergency managers or the Flint City Council play no role in whatsoever. The mere fact that anyone approved the switch is just semantics. Had the Flint Water Plant properly treated the water this story would have never happened. Bureaucrats shouldn’t receive any of the blame or credit for the end product delivered to residents.

The second point is absolving the City of Flint from its position as the primary cause of the crisis. This point bears repeating as no one is discussing it. The EPA sets the rules regarding safe delivery of drinking water. They assign responsibilities throughout the process. In EVERY case, it is the responsibility of the water utility to provide safe drinking water. NOT the regulatory authority. Agencies that oversee water utilities certainly have a responsibility to do their best to ensure laws, regulations and standards are followed. But it is the utility itself that bears the responsibility. there are many analogies one could make to illustrate this. Take your taxes. Make a mistake on your taxes and you are held responsible, not your tax preparer. Find a major defect in a home you just purchased and your home inspector you paid to find such things is not on the hook. In virtually any industry you can imagine, inspectors and other compliance type entities are always tasked with the responsibility to enforce, but never with primary responsibility when you don’t.

The fact is that the City of Flint should have properly treated the water. Bad advice from consultants or regulatory agencies doesn’t absolve them of the blame. The point can’t be overstated because liability is paramount. However, this is where the water gets muddy. The Flint Water Advisory Task Force makes the point that “Flint Public Works personnel failed to comply with LCR requirements, including the use of optimized corrosion control treatment and monitoring for lead”. Or did they? I refer you back to my post from Feb. 15, 2016. In it, I covered the EPA memo that was issued to help clear up the confusion in Flint. The EPA admitted that the LCR (Lead and Copper Rule) has differing possible interpretations. The EPA wants it both ways. They state that corrosion control should be maintained at all times. Yet they also say a utility should NOT use the same treatment when changing sources. First, a monitoring period must be conducted to determine the optimal process.

Basically, you can’t win. The EPA says you are responsible at all times no matter what. Yet they admit confusion and the LCR contains language in direct contradiction from one section to another. So at the end of the day the burden lies at the feet of the City of Flint and ultimately the EPA. Unfortunately, that isn’t where the focus will be. The state of Michigan blames the DEQ. Congressional democrats blame the Governor. Congressional republicans blame the EPA. They are right but are disregarded as partisan hacks intent on poisoning the air, water and soil.

The bottom line? Will the Flint water crisis fallout result in preventing a similar incident in the future? Not likely. Assigning blame to the proper recipients doesn’t seem to be on the agenda. Assigning blame for partisanship and maximizing taxpayer dollars does. Business as usual in government.